The images that have stuck, Part II

Yesterday, I wrote about the images that have struck me since my time on Chios. I now will continue with Part II.

The actor

There was one night about two weeks ago when I helped serve food outside of Souda, the post-registration camp (by the way, the Greek word “souda” means “fortress” and this camp is built squarely in the moat (now empty of course) of the Castle of Chios). Before we started setting up, there were a few people outside the gate (food is not permitted to be served inside the camp) milling around with whom we started to chat a bit.

One young man, Mohamed, was from Afghanistan and was there outside with his sister, nieces and nephews, who were surrounding us listening to us talk and waiting for the food that they knew would be served soon. He had almost model-like good looks, was my height (6’2”/1.85) and spoke English fairly well. He explained to me why he had to leave Afghanistan: “I am a theatre actor and the Taliban tried to kill me, because I was a theatre actor, so I had to leave.”

Crowd management, boss style

I wrote about crowd management at the beginning of my stay on Chios. It is something we constantly have to deal with and think about. That post came from a day when we had been hit hard by almost 2,000 refugees and the staff was short for a number of reasons. As I also noted, there had been errors made and groups of 170 and 140 were made for registration (when they are normally of 50), which causes a major headache when it comes time for those groups to actually register, because of the space available.

I was helping with the Snake during this semi-controlled chaos and, because of the lack of available staff, the head of NRC (on Chios) was there with me, something which he never does. As I described, there is a pen across from the 50-person Snake where the other 120 had to wait until space was freed and they could enter the Snake (I’m reposting the picture of the Snake (on the left) and you can see the open gate of the pen on the right, across the path). Because of differences in queuing culture, there wasn’t a simple line at the exit of the pen, but a mass of people who were sometimes crushing each other and pressed hard up against the barriers.

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The image that is stuck in my head is when it was time to let someone from the pen into the Snake, the head of NRC would open that barrier and push himself into the mass of people, pressing everyone back himself (he’s not a small person) and plucking one out at a time while checking each refugee’s bracelet number to ensure they were of the correct group and sending them across to the Snake. Then he would shut the pen and joke, in a good way, about one of the smaller staff trying to do the same thing.

The red jacket, revisited

I am so screwed if I have a daughter someday. Yes, making a little boy happy with “new” clothes items from the boutique is nice, but there is something extra awesome when it happens to be a little girl.

My first night, when I was in the clothes boutique and a little blown away by what world I had just entered that was Tabakika and the refugee crisis, there was an 8-year old girl who needed a winter coat. I found a new red one in the back of the boutique that she was over the moon with when she saw it, clapping her hands excitedly the way that kids do. She put it on and did a little giddy dance because of how happy she was with the coat. She beamed. Her mom beamed. I wrote then that that moment made the trip to Chios worth it and, after a month, I will not back down from that statement.

The My Little Pony experience ranks just below this one.

Focus amidst loss

As I mentioned yesterday (and in this blog post), there was a night when a boatful of refugees arrived directly to the port, because one of the passengers, a 3-year old boy had drowned just before arriving on Oinousses, an island to the northeast of Chios, and the Greek police needed to conduct an investigation.

At one point during the night, the father came out to the clothes boutique at the port to get a change of dry clothes for his other son, aged around 2, who had previously been at the hospital with the mother, because he had suffered minor hypothermia. The boutique in the port is small, with enough space for 2-3 people in there at once and it was just the father, his son and I as I attended to the child’s clothes needs.

The father just lost his 3-year old son, but he was so singularly focused on ensuring his other son received dry clothes, nothing could sway his attention. He showed no emotion, did not try to talk, but just concentrated on working with me on finding the right size pants, shoes, sweater, hat and jacket that he needed. He was wet himself, but would have nothing of replacing things for himself. The body of his son was in the police station and he wanted to get back.

Marriage is the same everywhere

One of the issues with the clothes boutique is that some people who enter think it’s a shop. And, I’m sorry, but 95% of the people like this are women (there are definitely some guys though too! (especially teenagers, who want to have “cool” clothes)). They don’t care that there might be 100 cold and wet people waiting in line behind them and they take their time in picking and choosing size and colors, wanting to see everything that is available. It’s sometimes really hard to get people to move on and out, so you can get to the next person. Really, what can you do?

A few days ago, I was in the clothes boutique and a family came in. Father, mother and two daughters. The father just wanted a pair of socks, I think. The two daughters took a little time, but were about average. The mother was horrible. Nothing pleased her. We don’t have a large selection to choose from. She really wanted to replace her shoes, which were fine, but we honestly did not have a pair that fit her (or even close), but she didn’t believe us. It was at some point during this saga, that I looked at the husband, who was standing to the side. Our gazes met and he rolled his eyes. I nearly lost it right there. We definitely bonded in that moment.

Hypothermia

My second or third day at Tabakika, a group of Eritreans arrived straight off a boat during a day with bad weather. They were the only boat to arrive and they were entirely soaked from head to toe. I haven’t worked the beaches, so I haven’t seen the bad cases of hypothermia, but one of these guys in particular was not well off.

He couldn’t use his hands and he was shaking, but not much. He had a vacant look in his eyes and his ability make decisions was compromised. I was able to outfit him with everything, except that the pair of pants I gave him could have fit someone two times his size (remember, giants!). We were so low on men’s pants at that point, it was all that we had left, but at least he could use the over-sized pair until his own dried out.

I will not forget his face, especially because while he spent a few days in Tabakika, whenever I needed support from below while using a ladder in the main hall, he was always there to make sure that it was stabilized.

There are so many other images that I have in my head. The kind, soft and dark brown eyes of the many appreciative and grateful people who I crossed paths with. Their thankful words in Arabic, Farsi/Dari, Pashto, English and French. And so many interactions with kids that it’s hard to count. The high-fives, the tossing them in the air, the making them smile, their playfulness. The love, kindness and togetherness of families. The laughing and smiles. The tears. The anger and frustration. Panic and fear. It’s the entire human experience.

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Josh

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2 Comments

  • I wish I had something beautiful and profound to say after feeling so moved by your words and your sharing your experience. But truthfully, just a plain thank you. I’m lucky to know you and there are hundreds (thousands?) of people who are warmer and happier for meeting you. Miss you and I hope our paths cross again soon. XO

  • Thank you Josh. We have shared your experiences which has been a privilege.
    I despair at the political responses to the refugee situation, but have to thank the countries on the front line who are managing it and if course volunteers like you. WE (UK) could do more to accommodate more of the vulnerable refugees.

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